How many people today can say they've been alive through 19 U.S. presidencies, both world wars, the sinking of the Titanic, the women's suffrage movement and the Great Depression - to name a few?
Not very many, but 107-year-old Rosena Hankerson of Barnwell is one of them.
"She didn't feel like she did anything special," said Jackie Cummings Koski, Hankerson's great-niece. "She'd say, 'I don't know what I'm doing, I'm just still here. It's the Lord's will.'"
Born March 16, 1907, Hankerson grew up with her 10 siblings and has lived in the Barnwell area her entire life. She and her husband, Lucius, were married for around 50 years before he passed away, and they had no children.
Hankerson attended three South Carolina colleges - Voorhees College in Denmark, Benedict College in Columbia and South Carolina State in Orangeburg - to receive her teaching degree. Several of her sisters also became teachers.
"They were all very smart women, and when they were in their 20s, it was very hard for African-American women to get degrees," said Koski.
Hankerson taught for more than 40 years, and Koski said she enjoyed telling stories about her days in the classroom. Another fond memory was her cooking.
"She was a really good cook. Collard greens, yams, all the good Southern food," Koski said.
Now, Hankerson spends her days at a nursing home only about 20 miles from where she grew up, and many of her relatives still live nearby. Koski, who lives in Ohio, visited Hankerson there in June, and said that she still likes to look her best.
"She kept saying, 'Brush my hair! Braid my hair!' She still has her hair and was concerned about it," she said.
Hankerson belongs to an elite group. In recent years, only about .02 percent of living Americans - or two in 10,000 - were 100 years old or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and just a handful reach super-centenarian status, or 110.
Asked about Hankerson's secret to her longevity, Koski said, "She taught for so long, and her mind was always working. I really think it's the genes."
One of Hankerson's sisters died at 101.
Her mind is still working just fine, though, and who knows how many more birthdays she still will celebrate.
"She has a little trouble hearing, but she has a really good long-term memory and remembers things from way back," said Koski. "She says, 'I'm worn down,' but I guess her body is saying, 'I'm not done yet!' That's the interesting part."
* The Nobel Prize in Literature, in its 7th year, was awarded to Rudyard Kipling.
* Actor John Wayne, actress Katharine Hepburn, painter Frida Kahlo and environmentalist Rachel Carson were born.
* The helicopter was invented.
* Transatlantic radio communications began.
* The first taxicabs with taxi meters began operating in London.
Rosena Hankerson, shown here in her 30s, has lived in the Barnwell area her whole life and turned 107 this year.×
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